a botanical puzzle solved

It was love at first sight. I'm referring to Spyridium vexilliferum, commonly known as Winged spyridium. That first sighting, in a nursery specializing in Australian indigenous plants, occurred about 8 years ago. I didn’t know anything about this plant, except that I loved its white velvety floral bracts.

For more than a year, or so it seemed, it obligingly and ceaselessly flowered on. Then, quite suddenly, it started to die back. I was puzzled. It had been so healthy. I couldn’t see signs of insect predators. I cut back the dead bits but the dieback continued. So I removed the plant in case it had a virus that could affect other plants.

I replaced the original plant with other Winged spyridium and other spyridium species. They all died after a year or two. I concluded that it was simply a short-lived plant, a definite disadvantage in a low maintenance, relatively no-fuss garden like mine.

There was something going on here that I didn’t understand. So I turned to Google. I discovered spyridiums originate from Tasmania, are part of the family Rhanmaceae, and are officially classified as an endangered species.

I also discovered that spyridiums are obligate seeders. That means that they are plants that can only regenerate from seed after fire. I think this explains the puzzle of their brief lives. I failed to provide the environmental conditions they need. In the absence of fire they lack the means to regenerate or reproduce. That is why, without the ability to set seed, they die.

No wonder they are on the list of endangered plants. In their natural habitat they have to contend with bush clearing and weeds. If there's fire but it comes too often they don't have time to mature.

They may be short lived and difficult to propagate but hopefully you'll always find one or two in my garden.


  1. What an interesting plant. With how managed our forests have become in order to decrease the fire danger, it is no wonder this pretty plant is endangered. I too hope you will continue to be able to find some in your garden :-)

  2. I don't think I could resist any plant called a Winged spyridium.

  3. Dear Catmint, What a delightful looking plant and one, very clearly, with an interesting pedigree! I am sure that you have already decided against setting fire to your garden every second year - most likely simpler,and cheaper, to keep replacing the plant. Whatever, there is something very satisfying about growing a plant which is listed as endangered. Long may you succeed with yours.

  4. thanks for this comment Noelle.It's scary to think we are in an age of so many extinctions.

    Hermes, of course! I should have dedicated this post to you!

    Hi Edith, you gave me a good laugh. I'd better not set fire to my garden. The fire might spread, and my neighbours wouldn't like it.

    Cheers, catmint.


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